searching for a way out of the darkness

What is the point of fasting and mourning on Tisha b’Av?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin
Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Among the restrictions on Tisha b’Av – when Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, among other national tragedies over millennia – are eating and drinking, Torah study, wearing leather shoes and even greeting one another.

The day is one of ultimate mourning and sadness. It is meant to be the saddest day of the year.

The question is asked: What is the point of the fasting and mourning?

In this regard, a rabbi once shared the following parable:

A Jew once lost his way in a forest. The harder he tried to get out, the more trapped he felt. He was completely lost. After wandering for about two days, he was about to give up hope. Suddenly, he saw a Jew coming towards him. He ran over to the fellow and asked him to show him the way out of the forest. The second Jew asked him, “How long have you been here, lost in the forest?”

“Two days!” he answered.

“I have been blundering here for a few weeks already,” exclaimed the second Jew, “and I have not yet found the way. You who have been lost for only two days are asking me?”

The point of the restrictions and mourning on Tisha b’Av is to make us realize that we are “lost in a forest.” We are in exile. We do not have a holy Temple. Evil is far more prominent in the headlines than good. We have been in exile for over 2,000 years.

The Jewish people has experienced all types of pogroms, holocausts, inquisitors, crusades and more during the years of exile.

Tisha b’Av, doing almost nothing but pondering these sad facts, gives us the opportunity to remind ourselves that we cannot make our way out of the “forest” unless we work together.

I do not know the way out and neither do you, but if we use Tisha b’Av to remind ourselves that we need each other to survive the dark world in which we live and to defeat the depressing headlines with acts of goodness and kindness, we may very well get out of this forest by making the world a better place and getting us all one step closer to the Ultimate Redemption.

May it be speedily in our days.